You gotta see Alan Ball’s Bottom. And Evelyn Blixt’s Peaseblossom is pretty adorable, too.
In truth, each member of the cast of Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has specific moments when their stage business, gestures, physical prowess or physical comedy draw appreciative snickers, sighs, and snorts from the audience. And now that the 2015 MSF troupe has moved to its Canton location at the Village Theatre, east-siders can easily seize the opportunity to enjoy this award-winning MSF company in action.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of those rare plays that can be seen over and over again; there are so many ways to interpret and stage the story that it always seems fresh. “Midsummer” is, of course, all about enchantment – faerie magic, to be sure – but also the older and more universal magic of romantic love. As the play opens, Theseus (Matthew Fahey) has won the hand of Hippolyta (Annie Keris) in war but now woos it with true affection. Hermia (Lydia Hiller) loves Lysander (Brandon St. Clair Saunders) against her father’s wishes and at the risk of her life. Demetrius (Milan Malisic) loves Hermia despite her rejection. Poor Helena (Laurel Schroeder)is smitten with an unrequited love for Demetrius that’s driving her to distraction. And all are imperiled by the wrath of Oberon, the Faery King, (David Blixt) whose unreasonable jealousy has estranged him from his beloved Queen Titania (Janet Haley), and caused him to set Puck (Shawn Pfautsch) on a binge of mischief-making.
Enter the rag-tag band of mummers – local workmen who’ve created their own “community theatre” production, hoping to perform their play at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. (David Turrentine as Quince, Dan Wilson as Snug, Edmund Alyn Jones as Snout, Eric Eilersen as Flute, Andy Head as Starveling, and, as noted, the brilliant Alan Ball as Bottom, present a gem-like ensemble all their own.) Of course they want to rehearse on the green sward of grass in the forest, where no one can spy on their clever devices. Of course, this clearing is the spot where the desperate lovers plan to meet and make their escape. And of course, this must certainly be a faery ring – the very spot where Moth (Sarah Pidgeon) and the other faery folk perform their nightly revels. As every fan of fairytales knows, whenever the filmy curtain that separates mortal beings from the immortals is torn asunder, mayhem and merriment are certain to follow.
“Midsummer” is always a treat, and this Michigan Shakespeare Festival production is a gift wrapped in gauze, glitter, firefly light, wispy ground fog and dreamlike sounds and songs. (Scenic Design, Jeromy Hopgood; Lighting Design, Diane Fairchild; Music Composition and Sound Design, Kate Hopgood.) MSF Artistic Director Janice L. Blixt may dress her Athenians in modern garb, but the faeries, like the story itself, are classically timeless – with delicately pointed ears, filmy garments and brilliantly executed telekinetic powers. (Costume Design, Renae Skoog ; Properties, Betty Thomas; and Fight Choreography, David Blixt.)
This is a lovely, light-hearted and lithe production that is certain to please. But for all its charming illusions, Director Blixt gives us intentional glimpses of the societal hardwood obscured by filmy layers of laughter. Egeus (Rick Eva) will readily send his only daughter to her death rather than allow her to defy his will. The “good” Duke of Athens is ready to enforce a cruel, misogynistic law simply because he can’t imagine breaking with tradition. King Oberon steals the foundling godchild of his queen because he is threatened by any competition for her affections. And the hardworking, sincere little troupe of actors knows full-well that failure to please the court could mean destitution or even death. Even the Duke’s Major Domo (Daniel A. Helmer) does everything in his estimable power to prevent the humble group from mucking up the royal festivities. Fortunately for the characters in this comedy, the love that inspires rebellion proves triumphant. And the victory of love’s own magic over the strong arm of the law gets to the bottom – and the heart – of everything that is right with this production. Don’t miss it.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs in rotation with “Henry IV” and Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s romantic comedy “The Rivals” through August 16, 2015 at the Village Theater of Cherry Hill in Canton. Ticket reservations and more information are available at the festival website.